NaNoWriMo in the Time of COVID

National Novel Writing Month is almost here!

But this year feels different… because it is different.

Preptober—getting ready for November

In NaNo terms, you’re either a planner or a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants with no plan). I’m definitely a planner. In 2018 and 2019, I not only spent time developing detailed outlines for my books, I had them plugged into Scrivener (my preferred writing software) and ready to go on November 1st. Since I write historical fiction, I have to do a fair amount of research in just developing the outline. That’s where I am now.

But nothing is the same this year. I have struggled to focus on my research and my outline stalls out periodically. I’ll have bursts of inspiration, only to be thwarted by a black hole of creativity.

I was recently talking to a friend about “COVID brain”—that feeling like you’re operating at about 60 percent capacity—and it occurred to me that it was time to cut myself some slack and shift my perspective. I may have to become—shudder—a plantser for this NaNo, a hybrid between a planner and pantser. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but what isn’t this year?

I will continue to research to the best of my ability, while juggling family, work, and the constant low-level anxiety of COVID, the election, climate change, and everything else. And I will give myself a break. I am still very much looking forward to NaNo because writing is not only a creative outlet, it is also self-care. I plan to use the same tools that have led me to NaNo victory the past two years and remind myself that if things go off the rails, that’s ok.

NaNo is writing together

Writing is typically a solo sport and in quarantine, it’s easy to be isolated. The fun thing about NaNo is that even though the act of writing is done alone, you’re doing it with hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. I have at least one writing buddy who I check in with every day—for words of encouragement, to update each other on our word count, and just general support. There is something very special about the writing community and when we’re all in the same boat at the same time, even more so.

Five tips for a NaNo win

There are a gazillion lists of how to succeed at Nano. Here’s what’s worked for my two out of two “wins”:

  1. Write every day. Even if it’s just 100 words, write something. If you’re struggling to get your word count on one day, don’t beat yourself up. Make it up another day. Some people like to schedule a time to write. I have an eight-year old. I write whenever I can, usually after she goes goes to bed. But also any other moment I can. I talk to my family in October about it because I need support and space to be creative.
  2. Don’t edit anything. Writing and editing are two very different processes. When you shift into editing, you’re shifting into engineer mode. You need to stay in artist mode. Your first draft will be terrible. Writer Julia Crouch calls it Draft Zero. You can always fix it in edits when the draft is done. Sometimes I need to take a detour to fill in an historical fact, but typically I just mark it to work on later. I start each day reading only the last sentence (possibly paragraph) I wrote to remind myself where I left off then it’s onward!
  3. Silence your inner critic. We’ve all got one. That voice that tells you everything you’re writing is rubbish. Ignore it. I write because I need to—for my own self-care and because I’ve got to get these stories out somehow. Remember, you can edit later. In November, focus on the fact that you are exercising your creative muscles and doing so in a community of other people doing the same thing. No judgment, no criticism. Just writing.
  4. Take advantage of the NaNo (and writing) community. Through the NaNo website, you can choose buddies, set your home region and find groups. In normal times, your city may have in-person write-ins (I did a couple at my local public library in years past). This year there will be virtual write-ins. Check the website for those. There’s a bigger world out there too. NaNo is very active on Twitter, with news and word sprints to help people move their story along. They are also active on Facebook (and have a private Facebook group you can request to join) and Instagram. Beyond the official stuff, it’s worth checking hashtags on Twitter like #NaNoWriMo and #writingcommunity, both of which are typically positive spaces to be in—something that’s not often the case on social media.
  5. Set up as much as you can before November 1st. I recognize not everyone is a planner, or even wants to be. If you work better without an outline, great! Do whatever works best for you. But figure out how and where you’re going to write. Do you have a space you can dedicate to writing? Set it up with what you need to feel inspired and supported. Before the end of days, we could write in a coffee shop if we didn’t have the space at home. That’s not an option this year, so figure out where the best space is for you to work. Also, it’s important to know how you’ll be writing. Do you want to use a writing software? Use Google docs or something else? Scrivener offers a 30-day free NaNo trial for their software. If you participate, you get 20% off the license and if you win, you get 50% off (it’s not that pricey to begin with). If you plan to use Scrivener or one of the other writing apps or software out there, get familiar with it before November. The last thing you want to do is have to fiddle with tutorials when you should be writing.

Above all, remember that “winning” NaNo just means hitting the 50,000-word goal by the end of the month. But winning is more fundamental than that. It is participating in the writing community, setting up a daily writing practice, and being proud of yourself for taking care of your creative needs. This year we need it more than ever.

Published by katezerrenner

I write non-fiction environmental work, mainly climate change, energy, and water, with a heavy focus on policy. I also write historical fiction. In addition to writing, I work as a policy advisor at the State of Texas. Previously, I spent over a decade at Environmental Defense Fund, where I led EDF’s multi-year campaign to influence and enact state and national energy and water efficiency policy. I led the state legislative team, testifying before the US Congress and Texas Legislature. Prior to joining EDF, I worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office analyzing U.S. action on climate change and the voluntary carbon offset market; SAIC, on climate change projects for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and U.S. Department of Energy. I have a Master’s degree in International Energy and Environmental Policy and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, a Master’s in Comparative Politics from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and a Bachelor’s degree in European History from the University of Texas

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